POLITICS

Pete Buttigieg To Open Fundraisers To Press And Disclose Bundlers

The South Bend, Indiana, mayor and Democratic presidential contender was under increasing pressure to match his rivals' transparency.

The presidential campaign of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced Monday that it would allow members of the news media to cover future private fundraisers and would disclose the names of super donors known as “bundlers.”

Reporters will be permitted to cover Buttigieg’s fundraisers starting on Tuesday and the campaign will provide the names of bundlers, who solicit multiple donations from other wealthy individuals, by the end of the week, according to a statement from campaign manager Mike Schmuhl.

“From the start, Pete has said it is important for every candidate to be open and honest, and his actions have reflected that commitment,” Schmuhl said.

Buttigieg had been under growing pressure in recent days to improve his campaign’s financial transparency.

Of the four Democratic candidates leading in the polls, only Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden have requested donations in private, high-dollar fundraisers. Biden has allowed reporters to cover those fundraisers.

And while Buttigieg began his campaign by publicly releasing the names of his bundlers, he has not updated his public list of bundlers since April, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (No other candidate who relies on bundlers, including Biden, has so much as begun to publicly identify them.)

For their part, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the progressives who, on average, lead Buttigieg in national polls, do not raise money in private fundraisers. (Sanders has gone so far as to actively refuse donations from billionaires, returning a $470 check contributed by Marta Thoma Hall, a Sanders supporter married to a billionaire.)

Warren and her team have been engaged in a war of words with Buttigieg and his campaign, pressing the mayor to release more information about his donors and provide press access.

Buttigieg’s decision to open up his fundraisers and bundler list is at once a concession to rising scrutiny and yet another escalation in a transparency arms race that has gripped a Democratic presidential primary field that remains 15 people strong.

“There are important differences in this race among Democratic candidates, from creating a choice of affordable health care choices for all to removing cost as a barrier to college for those who need it, but transparency shouldn’t be one of them,” Schmuhl said.

Buttigieg’s success as a candidate has depended to a large degree on the unusual amount of access he has given political reporters. He has invited reporters to join him on three multi-day bus tours through Iowa and New Hampshire, where he hosted hourslong sessions of on-record discussion.

But Buttigieg combined a freewheeling style with a closed-door policy toward his lucrative private fundraisers — and a strategy of delay when it came to questions about his nearly three-year stint at the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Buttigieg and his aides initially claimed that details about his tenure at the company, from 2007 to 2010, would have to remain secret until McKinsey agreed to Buttigieg’s request to be released from a nondisclosure agreement he had signed with the company before departing.

But the mayor’s rise in the polls ― he leads in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa ― ratcheted up scrutiny of his early career, and he faced renewed calls from progressive transparency advocates to release the details of his work for McKinsey. By Thursday, he had lost the influential editorial board of The New York Times, which called on him to end his “untenable vow of silence.” 

The following evening, on the first day of another campaign swing through Iowa, Buttigieg released a “summary” of the types of clients he served at McKinsey that nonetheless omitted the clients’ names. At the same time, he pointedly refused to violate the nondisclosure agreement he had signed with the company that bars him from revealing clients’ names, citing his commitment to honor his promise to McKinsey. He called on the firm instead to “do the right thing” and release him from his obligations. (McKinsey announced on Monday afternoon that it would oblige Buttigieg’s request.)

Pete Buttigieg speaks to voters in Coralville, Iowa, on Sunday. Reporters and rivals have challenged him to reveal more infor
Pete Buttigieg speaks to voters in Coralville, Iowa, on Sunday. Reporters and rivals have challenged him to reveal more information about his wealthy donors.

As Buttigieg was moving to address questions about his work for McKinsey, however, Warren was opening up a new front against him. In a conversation with reporters on Thursday, Warren called on Buttigieg to open his fundraisers to members of the news media and disclose a current list of his campaign bundlers. 

Warren’s challenge became a source of heartburn for Buttigieg virtually from the moment he arrived in Iowa for a weekend campaign swing.

The multiday tour featured its share of small left-wing protests and activist bird-dogging that generated negative publicity for the campaign. Buttigieg was captured on video flatly responding “no” when Greg Chung, an Iowa Student Action activist, asked whether he would refuse donations from billionaires and corporations. (Buttigieg has refused donations from corporate PACs; following critical HuffPost reporting in April, he also began refusing donations from federal lobbyists.)

Buttigieg faced increased pressure from reporters over the weekend in Iowa as well. After he addressed the Local America presidential candidate forum in Waterloo on Friday evening, reporters pressed him about his refusal to update his public list of bundlers and his policy of keeping reporters from covering his private fundraisers. He abruptly ended the press conference after admitting that opening up his fundraisers to the press was up to him and refusing to explain why he had declined to do so up to that point.

Initially, the Buttigieg campaign also sought to push back by challenging Warren to release her income tax returns from the years when she performed lucrative legal consulting work. 

But Warren noted correctly that she has released three years’ more tax returns than then-presidential candidate Barack Obama had released at this point during his 2008 presidential primary bid.

And though Warren is standing by her decision not to release additional income tax returns, on Sunday night, she published the compensation she received for each of her consulting gigs from 1986 to 2012 ― work that earned her a total of about $1.9 million. 

By opening up his fundraisers and names of bundlers to the media, Buttigieg is again trying to claim the moral high ground over Warren, who has staked her candidacy on her commitment to ridding the political system of corruption. Buttigieg also touts his promise to restore regular White House press briefings, which have virtually disappeared under President Donald Trump.

“No other candidate for president has released the entirety of their tax returns since their education concluded,” Schmuhl boasted in the Monday statement.

Schmuhl meant that Buttigieg had released his tax returns for work conducted after the completion of his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University in England, according to the campaign.

Immediately after obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 2004, Buttigieg worked for six months as a conference director for the global consulting firm the Cohen Group. However, the oldest tax returns available on the South Bend mayor’s campaign website date to 2007.

This story has been updated to clarify that Schmuhl was referring to Buttigieg’s tax returns after he completed his Rhodes scholarship.

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